It's no surprise that YouTube has become one of the key channels for marketers looking to boost the visibility of their games.
Unlike traditional user acquisition channels, however, making the most of YouTube's opportunities isn't about the size of your campaign spend.
As Finnish start-up Seriously has proved over recent months with its match-3 game Best Fiends, you can engage with ten of millions of eyeballs at a fraction of the cost of standard advertising, if you're creative enough and have the right partners.
We spoke to Phil Hickey, the developer's veep of marketing & communication, to dig into the details of the campaign and find out more about its results.
Exposure money can't buy
Seriously was founded by ex-Rovio executives Andrew Stalbow and Petri Järvilehto, with Hickey - another ex-Rovio-er who had worked on launches such as Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars - joining in April 2014.
Making the most of YouTube's opportunities isn't about the size of your campaign spend.
An experienced team, and one which is well versed in how competitive the mobile game space has become, their challenge was make a big splash that would make Best Fiends' October 2014 launch on iOS stand out from the crowd.
So what better than getting featured by PewDiePie?
Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, is a Swedish comedian gamer whose Let's Play videos have garnered 38 million subscribers.
According to a Variety survey, he is now the most popular celebrity among American teens, ahead of Jennifer Lawrence or Katy Perry. He's been referenced by South Park, and when he visited Singapore, the fan frenzy bordered on a riot.
He incarnates the YouTuber phenomenon.
Unsurprisingly, contacting PewDiePie required some legwork, with Seriously eventually connecting with Kjellberg through YouTube content agency Maker Studios.
In terms of the commercial deal that lead to the initial promotion of Best Fiends, Hickley can't comment, but he emphasizes money is not the only factor at play when sponsoring YouTubers.
"The first and most important step was that PewDiePie tried out the game and genuinely liked to play it. Short of that, nothing would have been possible," he says.
The value of trust
Indeed, prominent YouTubers are well aware of the importance of their community to their continuing success. That audience has put YouTubers into their position of power and can just as easily turn their backs on them if they feel disrespected in any way.
The sponsored feature for Best Fiends appeared on the sixth episode of PewDiePie's BroKen vlog, and the results of the campaign matched Seriously's expectations.
Hickey explains: "In our launch week, Best Fiends had a lot of momentum and racked up 1 million downloads, zooming up the Apple App Store charts with very little performance marketing compared to competitors".
We estimate that 30,000 to 50,000 direct installs were generated through the video in the opening weekend.Phil Hickey
The momentum was sparked through three pillars: App Store featuring, high-level PR outreach, and the PewDiePie video that occured with perfect timing.
"You can't track the impact precisely, but we estimate that around 30,000 to 50,000 direct installs were generated through the video in the opening weekend, at a lower average CPI rate than we would have paid through mobile UA networks or Facebook Ads," Hickey says.
Furthermore, the video itself garnered over 2.5 million views, which has a so-called spectated value.
Playing the charity dollar
Come December 2014, Seriously was ready to launch the Android version of Best Fiends on Google Play. Eager to come out with a bang on this platform too, Phil Hickey turned again to PewDiePie.
To make things more exciting than just another sponsored highlight, the new campaign combined some new elements.
Notably, Seriously challenged PewDiePie to play Best Fiends against four other prominent YouTube 'Lets Players'. The competition was then seeded with a $50,000 donation to various charities.
Half was given to Malaria No More; the charity that Seriously had previously backed, with the remaining $25,000 to be distributed to the cause of the winners' choosing.
The competition, called "Best Fiends Race Against the Slime" ran from 12 to 19 December, with PewDiePie, Markiplier, Kootra, CinnamonToastKen and UberHaxorNova each posting a video on their respective YouTube channels.
Their aggregate subscriber was 40 million, with the videos generating almost 4 million views during the initial 10 days of circulation.
If Seriously had turned to traditional UA channels, the cost of gaining the cheapest 4 million ad views possible would have been around $100,000.
In the case of the YouTuber campaign, however, not only was the campaign cheaper but its quality perception and memorability was much higher. Endorsements, spontaneous or sponsored, are not psychologically received in the same manner and have longer lasting impact on the audience.
And this builds true brand equity. As opposed to pre-roll or opt-in video ads, this was an actual event which viewers could engage with.
It is, of course, always difficult to precisely measure and quantify brand equity. Nonetheless it is possible to pinpoint their impact through other methods. One clear proof can be found in the huge spike that Seriously has recorded in Best Fiends' install analytics curve from 12 December.
Even though the "Race Against the Slime" update helped Best Fiends score an Apple featuring placement in the "Best Update" section of the App Store, historic data clearly indicate that such a huge uptick can't be attributed to this alone.
Other signals back the evidence. In its opening week on Google Play with Editor's Choice featuring, Best Fiends racked up 1 million downloads, bringing its cross-platform tally to 5 million and its DAUs to 900,000 after two short months on the market.
In the same week, Best Fiends climbed up the competitive Puzzle Game charts to respectively second and first positions in Apple App Store and Google Play.
It even got to a point where Best Fiends was trending in the App Store search field: typing the letters B and E prompting the game's title as the very first suggested query.
For the record, CinnamonToastKen won the first prize of the competition by completing all 120 levels of Best Fiends slightly ahead of UberHaxorNova.
Ken gave his $10,000 prize earnings to Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, while UberHaxorNova donated his $6,000 to A Precious Child. Kootra's third place granted $4,000 to Make-A-Wish America. Markiplier and PewDiePie tied finishing in fourth place winning $2,500 for Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Oceana, respectively.
Another off-shoot of the campaign was the wider impact on the charities: Malaria No More is ecstatic about the outcome of the campaign.
"We were amazed and encouraged by the outstanding levels of awareness and education sparked by MNM's integration into the game - including record setting web traffic to MalariaNoMore.org," the charity stated on its blog.
"Through MNM's Power of One campaign and partnership with Novartis, this donation will secure 25,000 malaria treatments for children in Africa, where 90% of malaria cases occur. That's 25,000 kids out of the hospital and back in school!"
Outside the CPI box
At a time when the mobile gaming industry allocates more and more resources to programmatic UA and performance marketing, with the CPI rates constantly on the rise in the app-to-app advertising field, we've reached a level where dependency on paid UA at middle-sized publishers has started to become counter-productive.
In a nutshell, the model is no longer sustainable for most companies.
Even the giants of the space are moving on: something seen in the growing trend for Extreme UA TV campaigns from the likes of King, Supercell, GungHo, Machine Zone and Ucool. Incredibly, in terms of reaching a new audience, this activity has become comparatively cheaper.
So in this climate, it's refreshing to see a start-up - even a relatively well-funded start-up like Seriously - try something as innovative as its YouTuber campaigns.
And it is even more refreshing to see it succeed.